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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | April 21, 2011

yellowAfter months of speculation, this week Hilton Hotels & Resorts unveiled its new lobby design — and it certainly was worth the wait. Hilton spent $40 million on the new prototype, which made its debut in Virginia at the 458-room Hilton McLean Tysons Corner, next door to the company's new headquarters.

Lobby makeovers have become a major focus for hotels, the strategy being that if you make them inviting, functional and fun to hang out in, they become significant revenue generators. Marriott International started the trend back in 2008, when it set out to overhaul the lobbies of its Courtyard by Marriott brand with a "refreshing business" concept, which featured food and beverage outlets, high-performance computer workstations and the signature GoBoard, a wall-mounted 57-inch LCD touch-screen loaded with information on local attractions and entertainment, maps, weather and news. By the end of last year, 270 Courtyards were sporting the new model. And earlier this year, Starwood announced it was working on a new lobby design for its Westin brand.

Well, Hilton has pushed the concept even further. The chain's new lobbies, which will be sprinkled with plushharth sofas, coffee tables and lush lighting, also will feature a Technology Lounge dominated by an enormous 128-inch TV screen. In this corner of the lobby, which will replace the traditional hotel business center, guests can huddle for an impromptu meeting at a communal work table or get some work done at PC and Mac workstations. "It also features our HP Printer On technology that allows guests to print from anywhere in the hotel, and the first use of specific LG technology at a hotel in the U.S.," says John Forrest Ales, Hilton’s director of global brand public relations.

In addition, the typical barrier-high reservations desk was chucked in favor of pod-style desks. "They are set up as two smaller desks, instead of a long, boxy desk that creates division between our team members and guests," says Ales. But by far the coolest design element in the new lobby concept is the 18-hour bar, which transforms from a grab-and-go hub in the morning, stocked with coffee, pastries, muffins and breakfast sandwiches, to a cool after-hours space, serving up specialty cocktails and small plates, tapas-style. For example, the bar at Hilton McLean Tyson's Corner, named Härth, dishes up American comfort food such as yummy wood-fired pizzas and artisan flat breads, and a marvelous charcuterie. It also features an impressive selection of regional beers. And no two 18-hour bars will offer the exact same items, because Hilton is encouraging each hotel to give theirs a local stamp.

While Hilton would not say how much they expect individual hotel owners will have to spend to adopt the new design, the company did note that the concept will be phased in at all new or renovated properties, which comprises about 40 percent of the brand's portfolio, over the next three to five years.